In the center of the dining room, a giant orange sphere peeks through an opening in the ceiling, partly surrounded by an orange rim. Crisscrossing steel cables rise up from banquettes on the floor below to meet the rim. You remember that you are in 23, the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, restaurant owned by Michael Jordan, and suddenly it all makes sense: You are sitting inside a basketball net. Designed by Ilan Waisbrod, 23 is a theme restaurant in which the theme is treated with unusual imagination. Waisbrod and his firm, Studio Gaia, are known for an understated, minimalist approach; his spare style complemented the more extravagant mode of his mentor, Adam Tihany, when Waisbrod worked for the senior designer on such jobs as the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (Like Tihany, Waisbrod was raised in Israel and studied in Milan.) Many of Waisbrod's creations show a Zen influence--earth tones and clean lines--whether for an Asian noodle shop (Republic, in New York City) or a place that serves everything from wontons to calzones (Zemi, in Boca Raton, Florida). Waisbrod designs the furniture in his restaurants, to ensure visual harmony. His newest showcase is about another kind of harmony; Jimmy's Up Town is a sleek, modern-looking restaurant in Harlem with a jazz club upstairs.

Heather A. McDonald